I suppose that we must apologise in advance for this post. It isn’t everyday that you get to sample some fabulous drams of Ardbeg on the peat bog. Oh… and try six Port Ellen’s at Port Ellen… in the actual kiln. But more of that later.…
Day six of the festival was supposed to be light on the whisky; a mini detox if you like before the spoils of Friday hit us. Lagavulin had other plans though. As you know we missed out on Lagavulin’s day through travelling up to Scotland so we jumped at the chance to take part in a warehouse tasting with the legend that is Iain McArthur. We arrived at the distillery and were led down to the warehouse by Iain who as usual was entertaining us with jokes and stories along the way. The actual tasting was fabulous. Iain was on top form, he was very funny and informative and entertained everyone – he also included the now customary rubbing of whisky into the hair of people who weren’t looking at, or listening to him! The whisky at Lagavulin speaks for itself and it isn’t often that you have the opportunity to try it straight from the cask. Here then are our brief notes of a rather good morning.…
Wednesday on Islay is Bowmore Day, and as fortune would have it we were staying in Bowmore so the 09:30 tour wouldn’t require a massively early start. Except that it did, as we were up and at the distillery for 07:30 to obtain a precious silver ticket that would allow us to buy a bottle of the more affordable Bowmore Feis Ile bottling. We’d arrived too late on Saturday to make the distillery so we were keen to ensure that we were able to obtain a couple of the final 300 bottles.…
Bowmore Bottle Your Own Oloroso Sherry Butt [55.5%]
Nose: Fruity, Christmas cake, peat smoke, very well balanced
Palate: Sweet, smokey, raisins, treacle, steak, spices
Finish: Very long, exceptional
Another day, another iconic distillery!
The sun was already in full swing when we rolled into the Laphroaig distillery car park. The girls were off to a Mixxit whisky cocktails class and the boys were meeting Vicky Stevens at Laphroaig for a tasting of all 5 batches of the Laphroaig Cask Strength 10 year old. Again, it feels like Christmas!
After the obligatory 'cartwheel in front of the Laphroaig waterfront sign' photo, Vicky led us into the dunnage warehouse. It was vault-like, damp, dark and quietly oppressive. Casks, laid three high, stood motionless in a state of stasis, the magic of maturation unseen but unstoppable.
The group, a smorgasbord of nations, assembled excitedly as Vicky locked us in a poured the first dram. Soon we were nursing a healthy measure of the Cask Strength Batch 1. Hailing from 2009 this whisky was big and bold, the flavours of Laphroaig turned all the way up to 11. Batch 2 was a lot sweeter and incredibly moorish – it really was fabulous trying the whiskies in such a unique location. Vicky recounted many great tales as she expertly led us through the whiskies and the warehouse. On the top floor we were treated to Batch 3 which was back to the more traditional bourbon influence with the old style bandages and TCP scent filling the warehouse. Batches 4 and 5 (5 only recently bottled) were enjoyed as we continued our tour through warehouse 1. It was really interesting noting the temperature variations throughout the building and sampling the spirit in the very place it was distilled and matured.
After a brief pause to collect our rent we were off on a distillery tour. James talked us through each stage of the process and we enjoyed a thoroughly enjoyable stroll through the building of Laphroaig. It's great to see that every day is a school day too; we never knew that the fire under the kiln shouldn't be that hot! It should be about 30 degrees so as to smoke the barley to perfection rather than cooking it. No distillery tour would be complete without a whisky so we finished off in the filling store with a dram of Quarter Cask – perfect.
The afternoon was set up to be free of whisky so we headed off to the Big Strand which is err… a big beach facing out to the Atlantic. Gloriously long and sandy we had a great walk along the beach taking the standard jumping photos!
The evening was spent in Bowmore. After some refreshments in the Lochside hotel, our walk home was interrupted by a sprint to the pier to beat the rising tide and claim one of the final bottles of Master of Malt's That Boutique-y Whisky Company prize – but more on that tomorrow. An amazing sunset rounded the day off and that left us looking forward to Bowmore and some fun with Master of Malt on Wednesday.
So how do you follow a fantastic Bruichladdich day?! Well, day three of the Feis belongs to Caol Ila, and it was with a increased sense of expectation that we headed down to Port Askaig. We were met by the friendly shuttle bus drivers taking the Feis folk down to the Caol Ila distillery itself. The day was bright and calm, another perfect Islay day!
We were booked on to the Maturation Tasting with some Lagavulin royalty; Georgie Crawford, Lagavulin manager and Iain McArthur, a warehouseman with 40 years of experience. We were taken into the old cooperage with stunning views over to the Paps of Jura. The room was atmospheric of times and workers past, with rusting equipment and dusty log books lying around.
The first dram of the morning was the Caol Ila new make spirit, with no colour at all it comes off the stills somewhere between 70 and 75% ABV. The nose is sweet and buttery, with wisps of smoke, pine resin, orchard fruits and some big peat notes. The palate fades instantly, but is strong, peaty and oily. Some of the Swedes in the group were happy to take it as it was, but we were to experience the effect the casks have on the spirit!
The first whisky on the menu was drawn from the cask right where we were seated by Iain. The whisky is 7 years old and has been happily maturing in a refill bourbon cask. At 61.5%, this is young and fresh with a classic Caol Ila profile. A pale amber hue, there was campfire smoke, lemon and some earthy peatiness on this chewy and moreish palate.
The next whisky was a very different monster… A rich and sherried 25 year old! This dram had been kept in the depths of the Royal Lochnagar warehouses since 1988 for the training of new Diageo ambassadors. Finally, and luckily for us, it has been given a new lease of life entertaining the masses at the Feis Ile! The nose was deeply sherried, full of dark chocolate, treacle and red grape. It had lost some of the smoky undertone with the intensity of the sherry but was still deeply satisfying. The palate was spicy with some rich fruit. The finish was long and dry with some red grape skins and gentle smoke raising its head at the last. It came out of the casks at 54.6%.
Then we were introduced to the Feis Ile 2013 bottling. Beginning it's life in 1998, this delightful Caol Ila has been triple matured in a combination of refill butts, hogsheads and barrels for 12 years. The vatted whisky was then allowed to mature in active hogshead casks for about two and a half years imparting spicy and oaky notes. The last six months of the maturation period was in European oak. It was personally selected by the distillery manager Billy Stitchell and was very impressive. This is another classic Caol Ila, smokey and complex with vanilla, chewy toffee and red wine. Deliciously balanced. In a word – wonderful. We're taking one of the 3000 bottles home with us!
We spent the rest of the day relaxing in the sunshine on the water front at Caol Ila. Apart from scallops fried in butter and Caol Ila 12 for Jon and a sausage sandwich for Mike, highlights included a cocktails class with Diageo whisky ambassadors Colin Dunn and David Sinclair, former bar manager of the Gleneagles Hotel. The cocktails were delicious and should be easy(ish) to replicate at home. We're already planning to start a bitters stash! David's Old Fashioned went down very well with our party.
The day ended with the news that Caol Ila distillery manager Billy Stitchell would be retiring this year and that the 2013 Feis Ile would be his last. There will certainly be some emotional goodbyes in the course of this year for Billy, but it was wonderful to be able to show some of appreciation for his dedication and hard work.
We had a great day at Caol Ila, relaxed our way through the afternoon and enjoyed some classic single malt. A perfect Feis experience.
A couple of weekends ago we headed off to Stourbridge for part one of two whisky shows to be held in the town in 2013. Regular readers will know that last year we also attended this excellent event, so we were excited to see what it had in store for us this time. The show is run by the excellent Nickolls and Perks team, and you really should make the effort to visit the shop in Stourbridge which is an Aladdin’s cave of all things whisky and wine!…
This was my first visit to Whisky Live and right at the start of this post I can tell you that it is now firmly in the calendar and I will be there again next year. I had a wonderful day out that included an early morning battle against the 4 inches of snow that fell in Birmingham the night before. Thankfully the public transport network was more of less holding up and I made my way down to London without too many hitches for a day that would be split into three parts.…
The Birmingham Whisky Festival is but a week away so we thought we’d share the frankly awesome whisky that we’ll be exibiting on our ‘Blogger’s Choice’ Stand at the show. We’ve selected some fabulous spirits from a range of distilleries and companies and we are excited about bringing them to you on 2 March. It is an opportunity not to be missed – some of the whiskies are sold out, never to be repeated! Just take a look at what you can try.…
Back in October we met Peter from Carn Mor Whiskies at the Chester Whisky Festival. On the day we had a lovely chat with him and he generously gave us a few samples that we’ll review over the coming weeks on the blog. In the meantime we thought it would be nice to interview him and tell you all about the fabulous goings on at Carn Mor – so here it is, our first interview!…